Court rules against Texas inmates who accused state of using expired drugs for executions

One of the three prisoners in the trial is former Missouri City police officer Robert Fratta, who is due to be executed on January 10 for the 1994 murder of his wife Farah.

HOUSTON. The Texas Superior Court of Criminal Appeals has barred a civil court judge from issuing any orders in a lawsuit filed by three death row inmates who allege the state plans to use expired and unsafe drugs to execute them.

Inmate lawyers Wesley Ruiz, John Ballentine and Robert Fratta last month asked a civilian judge in Austin to issue a temporary order barring the state from using expired execution drugs.

Fratta is a former Missouri police officer who was executed on January 10 for the 1994 murder of his wife Farah. His lawyers have several other appeals pending in his case.

Ruiz, due to be executed on February 1, is on death row for shooting a Dallas police officer in 2007. Balentine is due to be executed on February 8 for fatally stabbing three teenage neighbors in Amarillo in 1998.

Prison officials reject the lawsuit’s claims and say the government’s supply of execution drugs is safe.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to bar a civil judge from taking any action on the suit, arguing that the Court of Criminal Appeals has exclusive appellate jurisdiction in death penalty cases.

The Court of Appeal upheld this argument and ruled against the prisoners. The court had made the same decision in previous similar appeals against the state’s lethal injection protocol, and the prisoners in those cases were eventually executed.

In their dissenting opinion, two judges of the appeals court questioned that Wednesday’s decision “creates a catch-22 in which prisoners on death row have civil remedies to file claims regarding the method of execution, but cannot stop the execution.” to pick them up.”

Lawyers for the prisoners planned to appeal the decision.

“The fractured Texas Court of Criminal Appeals … is wrong in barring Texas civil courts from deciding whether the state of Texas is violating its own laws by using expired drugs to execute prisoners. … We will continue to insist that our clients’ executions be carried out in accordance with Texas law,” said Sean Nolan, an attorney for Balentine and Ruiz.

Nolan has criticized Texas’ secrecy in matters related to its execution procedures. State lawmakers banned the disclosure of drug suppliers for executions starting in 2015. The Texas Supreme Court upheld the law in 2019.

The history of lethal injection problems has been around since Texas became the first state to implement this method of execution in 1982. Some problems included difficulty finding usable veins, detaching needles, or drug problems.

Like other states in recent years, Texas has turned to prescription pharmacies for pentobarbital, which it uses for executions, after traditional drug makers refused to sell their products to US prison facilities.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says its use for lethal injections has expired and they have been properly tested.

But Mikaela Almgren, a professor of pharmacology at the University of South Carolina and an expert on the three inmates in their lawsuit, argues that “all the pentobarbital that TDCJ owns is expired as it far exceeds” the stated non-use date.

WATCH: Fratta was convicted of killing his wife in 1996.

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